Belize is putting too many of our economic eggs into the tourism basket. For sure tourism has been fast money, and tourism has appeared to be smart money for more than two decades now, but there are two fundamental problems with tourism. The first problem is that everybody else in the Caribbean is doing it, and some of the islands don’t have much of a choice, because they don’t have the bounty of natural resources which Belize possesses. Our Caribbean friends are completely committed to tourism, have been so for decades, and they are not only desperate to protect their product, they are more sophisticated than we are. The second problem is that tourism is an extremely fragile, delicate product: tourists can suddenly turn away from your destination because of unforeseen phenomena such as the recent ebola and zika scares.
It is amazing and sad at the same time what has happened to Venezuela. Under the great Hugo Chavez during the oil feast, Venezuela was helping almost everyone in the Caribbean, Central, and South America. Belizeans can testify to this because hundreds of millions of Petrocaribe loan dollars assured a third term in office for the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and their Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, in November of 2015. Chavez had a Bolivarian vision which had him trying to free the Caribbean, Central, and South America from the centuries-old dominance of the imperialist United States of America. But he fell ill and died in March of 2013.
To be honest, we can’t say precisely when the bottom began falling out of the international petroleum market, and if it happened before power in Venezuela was transferred to Chavez’s successor – Nicolas Maduro. Just holding on to power since assuming the presidency, in the face of Washington’s massive hostility, has been a kind of political miracle on Maduro’s part, because Venezuela, which helped so many of us, has itself been in need of critical assistance for some time now.
From a distance, we have to say it must have been that Venezuela did not diversify its economy enough during the years of the oil feast. Political critics of Chavez and Maduro will blame their socialist policies and regional ambitions, but the bottom line is that Venezuela depended too much on their petroleum reserves. Venezuela was absolutely too vulnerable when oil prices fell.
We do not agree with Belize’s move to marry tourism for better or for worse. Take time to know her. We gave a couple reasons in the first paragraph. Before we proceed, let’s remind you that we have said in these editorial pages, on more than one occasion, that if we had to make a choice, we prefer tourism to offshore oil.
But the safe, long-term, roots approach to Belize’s economic growth has to focus on farming/agro-industry and fishing/deep sea style. Farming and fishing, taking advantage of modern technology, would be where Belize has a competitive advantage over everybody else in the region, except perhaps for Guyana.
But, in the world of electoral politics, bright ideas for economic development are merely academic exercises. The realistic leaders of political parties are focused on victories at the polls every five years, and so they can’t dwell on long-term projections. Tourism is fast money, to repeat. In addition, Third World leaders are always in need of grants and loans from regional and international multilaterals, and it is the case, more often than not, that the multilaterals want to tell you for what programs they will lend you money. For Belize, loan money is out there like that for Prime Minister Barrow once he goes tourism, as he has done. From a more sinister standpoint, it is no secret on Wall Street that foreign direct investment capital for Belize has become very interested in oil exploration and mining in Belize.
Belize’s electoral politicians are not interested in serious, public discussions on economic issues. The tertiary level intellectuals of Belize are either not motivated, or they are intimidated, or both. The reality is that a blueprint for Belize’s political and economic future was laid out in 1968 by the United States. It is called the Webster Proposals, or the Seventeen Proposals.
In retrospect, we can see that there were sociological implications, if not downright conspiratorial intentions, involved with the Seventeen Proposals. The Belizean descendants of the original forestry builders of the settlement of Belize were encouraged to migrate to American inner cities. They were replaced by Central American refugees at the base of the pyramid, and by Asian entrepreneurs at that pyramid’s apex. Yes, roots Belizeans made a free and conscious decision to migrate, but they were not, we submit, properly informed thirty, forty, fifty years ago. We think we can say this with confidence in 2017.
Let those of us who remain here now commit ourselves to maximum self-information and awareness. Belize has changed, and we roots people were left behind economically. Belize will change even more, and if we do not begin to pay attention to economics, both at the micro and macro levels, our children and grandchildren will become just as much slaves and subjects as our ancestors were.
Belize is one of the richest pieces of real estates in the world. But we roots Belizeans are poor, and we have been going backwards. There is a reason for this, and it is ignorance. But, ignorance is no excuse. More than that, the Belizean power structure only talks Christianity in 2017. In 2017, Belize has gone absolutely Darwinian. If you sleep, you weep. And if you play the fool, “dawg eat yu suppa.”
Power to the people.